Alcatel-Lucent has created a terrific video (I saw it at Fiberevolution.com) for Australia regarding their proposed National Broadband Network. Australia is the latest of many countries poised to surpass the U.S. while we decide whether to take control of our future or let Comcast and AT&T control it. I recommend the video, and not just for the accent. Most of the video applies equally to the U.S. in terms of what pressures we face and a possible future. For those unfamiliar, the NBN will be a massive collaborative project between the public and private sector in Australia, resulting in an impressive open access broadband network. We need more videos like this in order to explain to everyday Americans why this infrastructure is so important and we cannot leave it to a few monopolistic companies to build.
Wherein I answer some questions to clear up common misconceptions about the broadband and cable networks upon which we depend...
For another real-world example of how companies respond to public entry into the telecom market (as opposed to theoretical arguments about crowding out investment), let's look back down to Lafayette and how cable incumbent Cox responded:
“Cox froze the cable rates in Lafayette, and they didn’t freeze the rates in other areas,” said Terry Huval, director of LUS, a municipally owned utility company which fought major incumbent opposition before building an FTTH network in Lafayette and starting to offer service earlier this year. “We figured our citizens saved over $3 million in cable rates even before we could offer them service.”
On Thursday, Oct 22, at 1:00 PM PDT (which is 4:00 PM EDT and, most importantly, 3:00 CDT), I will be a guest on CNET's The Real Deal - a live show that takes questions from listeners and viewers. We will be talking about some of the nuts and bolts of broadband infrastructure - from the laws around deploying networks to whether access to the Internet should be treated as a utility. Drop by at the appointed time (on the CNET site, not here) and ask some questions.
We occasionally look in on Seattle's broadband discussions because they are the largest city in the U.S. in which there is something approaching a serious discussion about a publicly owned community fiber network. They have a mayoral candidate who makes it a high priority and their Chief Technology Officer, Bill Schrier, both gets it and has an excellent staff that understands the benefits of such a network.
Glenn Fleishman has just interviewed Bill Schrier about the network and subsequently discussed the public need for broadband in specific neighborhoods due to extreme market failure. I like Glenn's style - he asks difficult questions and pushes for real answers. That said, I still want to push back on one of his statements because I think it instructive:
Following up on my recent piece about Comcast and the public interest, I wanted to note some good arguments for network neutrality. Teresa Martin penned a good article for capecodtoday.com that noted:
Last year, Oklahoma City launched the world's largest muni Wi-Fi mesh network (not residential use, just public safety and other muni uses). Shortly thereafter, they won an award for the public safety aspects of the network.
A GovPro story now suggests networks like this Oklahoma City network could be leading a renaissance for muni wireless networks:
For instance, three years ago, Oklahoma City launched a muni-wireless broadband network using equipment from Tropos Networks covering 555 square miles. Today it has been adopted as the primary network used by all city departments.
While I try to keep postings on this site to the subject of publicly owned networks, I think it important to discuss the ways in which some major carriers routinely flout the public interest. Thus, a little history on how Comcast has acted against the public interest.
Most of the readers of this blog are probably aware that Comcast has been dinged by the FCC following its practice of interfering with subscribers legal content (and undoubtedly illegal content as well) by blocking and disrupting the BitTorrent traffic. BitTorrent is frequently used to transfer large media files because it efficiently breaks large files into many little pieces, allowing the user to download from a variety of sources concurrently - the file is then reassembled.
The homeowners have discussed the problem with Charter Communications Director of Government Relations Nick Pavlis three times.
Pavlis said in a telephone interview it would cost the cable company $130,000 to run an underground cable 2 1/2 miles and “it’s just not a reasonable payback.”
He said the company spends $500 per house as a general rule, which gives them a 36-48 month return on investment.
Vermont's proposed East Central Fiber Network is moving forward, confident that the strength of their application for federal broadband stimulus funding will get them an award. Atlantic Engineering has been surveying pole and prepping so they can get started as soon as possible.
They are also offering network-branded apparel - it reads: ECFiber.Net Community owned Fiber-Optic network. I think this is pretty fricking cool - it shows the enthusiasm these folks have.
We finally have a realistic estimate of the cost of bringing 100Mbps to every home in America... and Light Reading labeled the cost "jaw-dropping."
Want to provide 100-Mbit/s broadband service to every U.S. household? No problem: Just be ready to write a $350 billion check.
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) officials shared that jaw-dropping figure today during an update on their National Broadband Plan for bringing affordable, high-speed Internet access to all Americans. The Commission is schedule to present the plan to Congress in 141 days, on Feb. 17.
Many have held up the CyberSpot Wi-Fi network in Florida's Saint Cloud as a successful example of public provisioning of wireless. From my perspective, the network was always interesting in that it did not attempt to pay for itself out of network revenues. The city built the network and provided services over the 15 square miles for free - they viewed it as a public service. The network start-up cost was $2.5 million and was funded by the Economic Development Fund. It cost another $370,000 each year in operating costs - some $30,000 a month. Some 77% of the city used the network within half a year according to Free Press. St. Cloud has some 30,000 people and had at least 8500 unique devices connect to it monthly in recent months - due to NAT routers (non-geeks, ignore this) we can safely assume that there are more than 8500 devices using the network.
I hesitate to say, "know your enemy," because the carriers should not be our enemy. There are many ways these carriers can continue profiting even without damaging America's standing in international broadband rankings. However, they are instead attacking our efforts to regain parity with peer nations by forming astroturf groups to argue that only they can save us from the problems their lack of investment have created - and then only by reducing regulations on them. How convenient for them...
Thanks to Karl Bode for discussing how they operate:
The Minnesota Independent took Pawlenty's Administration to task last week for its decision to give more money to the telecom company front group Connected Nation. To be clear, this is not the money for infrastructure (yet - time will tell how the state encourages the feds to allocate the grants). This was the mapping money.
Peter Fleck, of PF Hyper blog, put it well:
“My understanding is that we have allowed the companies that have not provided the needed broadband coverage in our state to steer the broadband mapping process itself because of a stated need for confidentiality. That need is questionable,” said Fleck.
At a general discussion yesterday at the NATOA National Conference down here in New Orleans, I was stunned to hear someone from the muni world accept the idea that some municipalities do not want to compete with the private sector. I say stunned, not because I'm surprised to hear that some towns do not want to provide telecommunications services in competition with the private sector, but because towns "compete" with the private sector in many ways that go unnoticed.
Police and education are two examples in which every community provides services in competition with the private sector (security guards and private schools). Most communities have libraries - taking sales away from hard-working bookstores. Some towns provide municipal golf courses or public swimming pools. There are many ways in which it is acceptable for the public sector to "compete" with the private sector.